2. BOOK II.
Jason claims his own. Pelias tells about the Golden Fleece. Jason vows the quest thereof.
SO there they lay until the second dawn
Broke fair and fresh o'er glittering glade and lawn;
Then Jason rose, and did on him a fair
Blue woollen tunic, such as folk do wear
On the Magnesian cliffs, and at his thigh
He hung a short-sword and a knife thereby;
His head was covered with a russet hood;
Well steeled and bound with brazen bands he shook.
Then from the Centaur’s hands at last he took
The tokens of his birth, the ring and horn,
And so stept forth into the sunny morn,
And bade farewell to Chiron, and set out
With eager heart, that held small care or doubt.
So lightly through the well-known woods he passed,
And out into the open plain at last,
And went till night came on him, and then slept
Within a homestead that a poor man kept;
And rose again at dawn, and slept that night
Nigh the Anaurus, and at morrow's light
Rose up and went unto the river's brim;
But fearful seemed the passage unto him,
For swift and yellow drave the stream adown
‘Twixt crumbling banks; and tree-trunks rough and brown
Whirled in the bubbling eddies here and there;
So swollen was the stream a maid might dare
To cross, in fair days, with unwetted knee.
Then Jason with his spear-shaft carefully
Sounded the depth, nor any bottom found;
And wistfully he cast his eyes around
To see if help was nigh, and heard a voice
Behind him, calling out, Fair youth, rejoice
That I am here to help, or else meseems
Long mightst thou dwell beside these summer streams.
Then Jason turned round quickly, and beheld
A woman, bent with burdens, and with eld
Grey and broad shouldered; so he laughed, and said:
O mother, wilt thou help me? by my head,
More help than thine I need upon this day.
O son, she said, needs must thou on thy way;
And is there any of the giants here
To bear thee through this water without fear?
Take, then the help a God has sent to thee,
For in mine arms a small thing shalt thou be.
So Jason laughed no more, because a frown
Gathered upon her brow, as she cast down
Her burden to the earth, and came a-nigh
And raised him in her arms, and bore him high,
And stept adown into the water cold.
with one arm the hero did she hold,
And with the other thrust the whirling trees
Away from them; and laughing, and with ease
Went through the yellow foaming stream, and came
Unto the other bank; and little shame
Had Jason that a woman carried him,
For no man, howsoever strong of limb,
Had dared across that swollen flood to go,
Therefore he doubted not, that with some God
Or reverend Goddess that rough way he trod.
SO when she had clomb up the slippery bank
And let him go, well-nigh adown he sank,
For he was dizzy with the washing stream,
And with that passage mazed
as with a dream.
But, turning round about unto the crone,
He saw not her, but a most glorious one,
A seeming woman, blue-clad, glistering
With something more than gold, crowned like the king
Of all the world, and holding in her hand
A jewelled rod. So when he saw her stand
With unsoiled feet scarce touching the wet way,
He trembled sore
, but therewith heard her say:
O JASON, such as I have been to thee
Upon this day, such ever will I be;
And I am Juno; therefore doubt thou not
A mighty helper henceforth thou hast got
Against the swords and bitter tongues of men,
For surely mayst thou lean upon me, when
The turbulent and little-reasoning throng
Press hard upon thee, or a king with wrong
undo thee, as thou leanedst now
Within the yellow stream: so from no blow
Hold back thine hand, nor fear to set thine heart
On what thou deemest fits thy kingly part.
Now to the king's throne this day draw anear,
Because of old time have I set a fear
Within his heart, ere yet thou hadst gained speech,
And whilst thou wanderedst beneath oak and beech
Unthinking. And, behold! so have I wrought,
That with thy coming shall a sign be brought
Unto him; for the latchet
of thy shoe
Rushing Anaurus late I bade undo,
Which now is carried swiftly to the sea.
So Pelias, this day setting eyes on thee,
Shall not forget the shameful trickling blood
Adown my altar-steps, or in my wood
The screaming peacocks scared by other screams,
Nor yet to-night shall he dream happy dreams.
Farewell then, and be joyful, for I go,
Unto the people many a thing to show,
And set them longing for forgotten things,
Whose rash hands toss about the crowns of kings.
THEREWITH before his eyes a cloud there came,
Sweet-smelling, coloured like a rosy flame,
That wrapt the Goddess from him; who, indeed,
Went to Iolchos, and there sowed the seed
Of bitter change, that ruins kings of men;
For, like an elder of threescore and ten,
Throughout the town she went, and, as such do,
Ever she blessed the old, and banned the new,
Lamenting for the passed and happy reign
Of Cretheus, wishing there were come again
One like to him; till in the market-place
About the king was many a doubtful face.
NOW Jason, by Anaurus left alone,
Found that, indeed, his right-foot shoe was gone.
But, as the Goddess bade him, went his way
Half shod, and by an hour before mid-day
He reached the city gates, and entered there,
Whom the folk mocked, beholding his foot bare,
And iron-hiked sword, and uncouth weed
But of no man did he take any heed,
But came into the market-place, where thronged
Much folk round him by whom his sire
But when he stood within that busy stead,
Taller he showed than any by a head,
Great limbed, broad shouldered, mightier far than all,
But soft of speech, though unto him did fall
Full many a scorn upon that day to get.
So in a while he came where there was set
Pelias the king, judging the people there;
In scarlet was he clad, and o'er his hair;
Sprinkled with grey, he wore a royal crown,
And from an ivory throne he looked adown
Upon the suitors and the restless folk.
NOW, when the yellow head of Jason broke
From out the throng, with fearless eyes and grey,
A terror took the king, which ere that day
For many a peaceful year he had not felt,
And his hand fell upon his swordless belt;
But when the hero strode up to the throne,
And set his unshod foot upon the stone
Of the last step thereof, and as he stood,
Drew off the last fold of his russet hood,
And with a dang let fall his brass-bound spear,
The king shrunk back, grown pale with deadly fear;
Nor then the oak-trees' speech did he forget,
Noting the one bare foot, and garments wet,
And something half remembered in his face.
And now nigh silent was the crowded place,
For through the folk remembrance Juno sent,
And soon from man to man a murmur went,
And frowning folk were whispering deeds of shame
And wrong the king had wrought, and Aeson's name,
Forgotten long, was bandied all about,
And silent mouths seemed ready for a shout.
So, when the king raised up a hand, that shook
With fear, and turned a wrathful, timorous look
On his Aetolian guards, upon his ears
There fell the clashing of the people's spears;
And on the house-tops round about the square
Could he behold folk gathered here and there,
And see the sunbeams strike on brass and steel.
But therewithal, though new fear did he feel,
He thought, Small use of arms in this distress,
Needs is it that I use my wiliness;
Who hast not learned before a king to bow?
PELIAS, he said, I will not call thee king,
Because thy crown is but a stolen thing,
And with a stolen sceptre dost thou reign,
Which now I bid thee render up again,
And on his father's throne my father set,
Whom for long years the Gods did well forget,
But now, in lapse of time, remembering,
Have raised me, Jason, up to do this thing,
Yet now, since Tyro's blood 'twixt thee and me
Still runs, and thou my father's brother art,
In no wise would I hurt thee, for my part,
If thou wilt render to us but our own,
And still shalt thou stand nigh my father's throne.
THEN all the people, when aright
That this was Aeson's son, about them drew,
And when he ended gave a mighty shout;
But Pelias cleared his face of fear and doubt,
And answered Jason, smiling cunningly:
YEA, in good time thou comest dunto me,
My nephew Jason; fain would I lay down
This heavy weight and burden of a crown,
And have instead my brother's love again,
Which once I lost to win a trouble vain;
And yet, since now thou showest me such goodwill,
Fain would I be a king a short while still,
That I may set all things in order due,
Lest there be some who should my going rue:
Be thou beside me still, my brother's son,
And count the day of fear and trouble done.
But for thy father Aeson will I send,
That I may see him as a much-loved friend,
Now that these years of bitterness are passed,
And peaceful days are come to me at last.
WITH that, from out the press
grave Aeson came,
E'en as he spoke; for to his ears the fame
Of Jason's coming thither had been brought;
Wherefore, with eager eyes his son he sought;
But, seeing the mighty hero great of limb,
Stopped short, with eyes set wistfully on him,
While a false honied speech the king began:
Hail, brother Aeson, hail, O happy man!
To-day thou winnest back a noble son,
Whose glorious deeds this fair hour sees begun,
And from my hands thou winnest back the crown
Of this revered and many-peopled town;
So let me win from thee again thy love,
Nor with long anger slight the Gods above.
THEN Jason, holding forth the horn and ring,
Said to his father, Doubtest thou this thing?
Behold the tokens Chiron gave to me
When first he said that I was sprung from thee.
Then little of those signs did Aeson reck
But cast his arms about the hero's neck,
And kissed him oft, remembering well the time
When as he sat beneath the flowering lime
Beside his house, the glad folk to him came
And said: O King, all honour to thy name,
That will not perish surely; for thy son
His royal life this day has just begun.
Wherefore unto him, like an empty dream,
The busy place, the king and folk did seem,
As on that sight at last he set his eyes,
Prayed for so oft with many a sacrifice;
And speechless for a while fain must he stand,
Holding within his hand the mighty hand
And as the wished-for son he thus beheld,
Half mournful thoughts of swiftly-gathering eld
Came thick upon him, till the salt tears ran
On to the raiment of the goodly man;
Until at last he said: All honour now
To Jove and all the Gods! Surely, I know,
Henceforth my name shall never perish; yet
But little joy of this man shall I get,
For through the wide world where will be the king
Who will not fear him; nor shall anything
Be strong against him; therefore certainly
Full seldom will he ride afield with me,
Nor will he long bear at his father's board
To sit, well-known of all, but with his sword
Will rather burst asunder banded throngs
Of evil men, healing the people's wrongs.
And as for thee, O Pelias, as I may,
Will I be friend to thee from this same day;
And since we both of us are growing old,
And both our lives will soon be as tales told,
I think perchance that thou wilt let me be,
To pass these few years in felicity
That this one brings me. Thereon Pelias said:
Yea, if I hurt thee ought, then on my head
Be every curse that thou canst ever think;
And dying, of an ill draught may I drink,
For in my mind is nought but wish for rest.
But on this day, I pray thee, be my guest,
While yet upon my head I wear the crown,
Which, ere this morn's new flowers have dropped adown,
Thine head shall bear again; for in the hall,
Upon the floor the fresh-plucked rushes
Even as we speak, and maids and men bear up
The kingly service; many a jewelled cup
And silver platter; and the red fires roar
About the stalled ox and the woodland boar;
And wine we have, that ere this youngling's eyes
First saw the light, made tears and laughter rise
Up from men's hearts, making the past seem dull,
The future hollow, but the present full
Of all delights, though quick they pass away;
And we, who have been foes for many a day,
Surely, ere evening sees the pitcher dry,
May yet be friends, and talking lovingly,
And with our laughter make the pillars ring,
Saddened by that, which makes us elders glad.
SUCH good words said he, but the thoughts were bad
Within his crafty breast; and still he thought
How best he might be rid of him just brought,
By sentence of the Gods, upon his head.
Then moved the kinsmen from the market-stead
Between a lane of men, who' ever pressed
About the princes, and with loud words blessed
The hero and his race, and thought no shame
To kiss his skirts; and so at last they came
Unto the house that rustling limes did shade,
And thereabout was many a slender maid,
Who welcomed them with music and sweet song,
And cast red roses as they went along,
Before their feet; and therewith brought the three
Into the palace, where right royally
Was Jason clad, and seemed a prince indeed.
So while the harp-string and shrill-piping reed
Still sounded, trooped the folk unto the feast,
And when with dainties they were fully fed,
Then the tall jars and well-sewn goat-skins bled
And men grew glad, forgetting every care.
But first a golden chain and mantle fair
on him; and then, standing up,
Poured out red wine from a great golden cup,
Unto the Gods, and prayed to them, and cried,
LORDS of the World, fair let our bliss abide
This hour at least, nor let our dear delight
Be marred by aught, until the silent night
Has come, and turned to day again, and we
Wake up once more to joy or misery,
Or death itself, if so it pleaseth you:
Is this thing, then, so great a thing to do?
THEREON folk shouted, and the pipes again
Breathed through the hall a sweet heart-softening strain,
And up the hall came lovely damsels, dressed
In gowns of green, who unto every guest
Gave a rose garland, nor yet hasted they,
When this was done, to pass too quick away,
If here and there an eager hand still held
By gown or wrist, whom the young prince beheld
With longing eyes that roved about the hall.
NOW longer did the cool grey shadows fall,
And faster drew the sun unto the west,
And in the field the husbandman, opprest
And to the fold the woolly sheep were come;
And in the hall the folk began to tell
And piteous tales. And Jason in mean while
Sat listening, as his uncle with a smile,
Kept pouring many a thing into his ears,
Now worthy laughter, and now meet for tears.
Until at last, when twilight was nigh gone,
And dimly through the place the gold outshone,
He bade them bring in torches, and while folk
Blinked on the glare that through the pillars broke,
He said to Jason: Yet have I to show
One tale which I were fain that all should know,
All these about us. Therewith did he call
The herald, bidding him throughout the hall
Cry silence for the story of the king.
AND this being done, and all men listening,
He spake and said, O noble Minyæ,
Right prosperous and honoured may ye be;
Upon his house there fell a heavy fate,
Making his name a mere byword; for he,
on her a bold youth and tender maid,
Of what the righteous Gods' might do to him,
And seeing Ino
, fair of face and limb
Beyond all other, needs with her must wed,
And to that end drove from his royal bed
Unhappy Nephele, who now must be
A slave, where once she governed royally;
While white-foot Ino smiling, sat alone
By Athamas upon the ivory throne.
And now, as time went on, did Ino bear
To Athamas two children hale
And therewithal hate grew in her the more
Against the twain that Nephele once bore,
Who yet, in spite of all things, day by day
Grew lovelier as their sad lives wore away;
Till Ino thought, What help will it have been,
That through these years I have been called a queen,
And set gold raiment on my children dear,
If Athamas should die and leave me here
Betwixt the people and this Nephele,
With those she bore ? What then could hap to me
But death or shame ? for then, no doubt, would reign
Over this mighty town the children twain;
With her who once was queen still standing near,
And whispering fell
words in her darlings' ear.
And then what profit would it be that they
Have won through me full many an evil day;
That Phryxus base and servile deeds doth know,
Unmeet for lords; that many a shame and woe,
Helle has borne, and yet is wont
Shrinking with fear, before some dreaded hand;
If still the ending of it must be this,
That I must die while they live on in bliss,
And cherish her
that first lay in my bed ?
Nor is there any help till they be dead.
Then did she fall on many an evil thought,
And going thence, with threats and money brought
The women of the land to do this thing:
In the mid-winter, yea, before the spring
Was in men's minds, they took the good seed corn,
And while their husbands toiled in the dark morn,
And dreaded nought, they throughly seethed
Whereby this seeming portent did befall,
That neither the sweet showers of April-tide,
Nor the May sunshine gleaming far and wide
Over the meadows, made their furrows green,
Nor yet in June was any young shoot seen.
Then drew the country folk unto the king,
Weeping and wailing, telling of the thing,
And praying him to satisfy the God,
Whoe'er he was, who with this cruel rod
So smote his wretched people: whereon he
Bade all his priests inquire solemnly
What thing had moved the Gods to slay them thus?
Who, hearing all this story piteous,
Because their hands had felt Queen Ino's gold,
And itched for more, this thing in answer told:
That great Diana with Queen Nephele
beyond all measure, for that she,
Being vowed unto the Goddess, none the less
Cast by the quiver and the girt-up dress,
To lie with Athamas, in kingly bed;
Therefore with grief must she redeem her head,
And though she still should keep her wretched life,
Yet must she give her children to the knife,
Or else this dearth should be but happiness
To what should come, for She would so oppress
The land of Thebes, that folk who saw its name
In old records, would turn the page, and blame
The chronicler for telling empty lies,
And mingling fables with his histories.
Therefore is Athamas a wretched man
To hear this tale, and doeth what he can
To save his flesh and blood, but all in vain;
Because the people, cruel in their pain,
With angry words were thronging the great hall,
And crafty Ino at his feet did fall,
Saying, O King, I pray for these, and me,
And for my children. Therefore, mournfully
He called the priests again, and bade them say,
In few words, how his children they would slay,
Would best be pleased to see their young blood flow.
Who said, that if the thing were quickly done,
Seeing the green things were not wholly gone,
The ruined fields might give a little food,
And that the morrow's noon was meet
Above all other hours, to do the thing;
And thereupon they prayed unto the king,
To take the younglings, lest they flee and live,
And many an evil day hereafter give
To Thebes which bore them on a hapless
Then men were sent, who by the river side
Found Phryxus casting nets into the stream;
Who, seeing them coming, little harm did deem
They meant him, and with welcome bade them share
The glittering heap of fishes that lay there.
But they with laughter fell at once on him,
Who, struggling wrathfully, broke here a limb
And there a head, but lastly on the ground
Being felled by many men, was straightly bound,
And in an iron-bolted prison laid,
While to the house they turned to seek the maid.
Whom soon they found, within the weaving-room,
Bent earnestly above the rattling loom,
Working not like a king's child, but a slave
Who strives her body from the scourge to save.
On her they seized, speechless for very fear,
And dragged her trembling to the prison drear,
Where lay her brother, and there cast her in,
Giddy and fainting, wondering for what sin
She suffered this; but, finding Phryxus laid
In the same dismal place, the wretched maid
Bewailed with him the sorrows of their life,
Praying the Gods to show the king's new wife
What sorrow was, nor let her hair grow grey
Ere in some hopeless place her body lay.
NOW in that court a certain beast there was,
The gift of Neptune to King Athamas,
A mighty ram, greater than such beasts be
In any land about the Grecian sea;
And in all else a wonder to men's eyes,
For from his shoulders did two wings arise,
That seemed as they were wrought of beaten gold,
And all his fleece was such as in no fold
The shepherd sees, for all was gold indeed.
And now this beast with dainty grass to feed,
The task of Nephele had late been made,
of the mighty ram afraid,
Would bring him flowering trefoil
day by day,
And comb his fleece; and her the ram would pay
With gentle bleatings, and would lick her hand,
As in his well-built palace he did stand.
For all the place was made of polished wood,
Studded with gold; and, when he thought it good,
Within a little meadow could he go,
Throughout the midst whereof a stream did flow,
And at the corners stood great linden-trees,
Hummed over by innumerable bees.
So on the morning when these twain should die,
Stole Nephele to this place privily,
And loosed the ram, and led him straight away
Unto Diana's temple, where that day
Her heart should break unless the Gods were good.
There with the ram, close in a little wood,
She hid herself a-nigh the gates, till noon
Should bring those to the Lady of the Moon
She longed to see; and as the time drew nigh,
She knelt, and with her trembling hands did tie
About the gold beast’s neck a mystic thing,
And in his ears, meanwhile, was murmuring
Who on the sands at noon is wont to nod
Beside the flock of Neptune; till at last
Upon the breeze the sound of flutes went past;
Then sore she trembled, as she held the beast
By the two golden horns, but never ceased
Her mystic rhyme; and louder, and more loud
The music sounded, till the solemn crowd
Along the dusty road came full in sight.
First went the minstrels, clad in raiment white,
Both men and maids garlanded daintily;
And then ten damsels, naked from the knee,
Who in their hands bare bows done round with leaves,
And arrows at their backs in goodly
Gay-feathered, ready for the flight in air;
Then came three priests; one bore the steel made bare,
One a great golden bowl to hold the blood,
And one a bundle of some sacred wood;
And then was left a little vacant space,
And then came gold, and therewithal the face
Of beauteous Ino, flushed and triumphing,
And by her, moody and downcast, the king.
And now her heart beat quick and fast indeed,
Because the two came, doomed that day to bleed
Over the grey bark of the hallowed wood,
Looking around, with mournful, steady eyes,
Upon the green fields and the braveries,
And all he never thought to see again.
But Helle, as she went, could not refrain
From bitter wailing for the days gone by,
When hope was mixed with certain misery,
And when the long day's task and fear was done,
She might take pleasure sometimes in the sun,
Whose rays she saw now glittering on the knife
That in a little time should end her life.
Now she, who in coarse raiment had been clad
For many a year, upon her body had.
On this ill day, a golden pearl-wrought gown,
And on her drooping head a glittering crown,
And jewelled sandals on her hinting feet,
And on her neck and bosom jewels meet
For one who should be wedded to a king;
Thus to her death went moaning this sweet thing.
But when they drew a-nigh the temple gate
The trembling, weeping mother, laid in wait,
Let go the mighty beast upon the throng,
Until the great buck stalks from out the herd,
And then, with well-remembered hunting word,
Slips the stout leash: so did she slip
Who dashed aside both singing-man and priest
And girded maiden, and the king amazed,
And Ino, who with wild eyes stood and gazed,
The horror rising in her evil heart.
And thereon Phryxus, seeing the dose crowd part,
And this deliverer nigh him, with wings spread
Ready for flight, and eager threatening head,
Without more words, upon his broad back sprung,
And drew his sister after him, who clung
With trembling arms about him; and straightway
They turned unto the rising of the day,
And over all rose up into the air
With sounding wings; nor yet did any dare,
As fast they flew, to bend on them a bow,
Thinking some God had surely willed it so.
THEN went the king unto his house again
And Ino with him, downcast that the twain
Had so escaped her, waiting for what Fate
Should bring upon her doomed head, soon or late.
Nor long she waited; for, one evil day,
Unto the king her glittering gold array
And rosy flesh, half seen through raiment thin,
Seemed like the many-spotted leopard's skin;
And her fair hands and feet like armed paws,
Which the keen beast across the strained throat draws
Of some poor fawn; and when he saw her go
Across the hall, her footsteps soft and slow,
And the lithe motion of her body fair
But made him think of some beast from his lair
Stolen forth at the beginning of the night.
Therefore with fear and anger at the sight
He shook, being maddened by some dreadful God;
And stealthily about the place he trod,
Seeking his sword; and, getting it to hand,
With flaming eyes and foaming mouth did stand
Awhile, then rushed at Ino as she stood
Trembling and pale, in horror of his mood;
Straightway she caught her raiment up and fled
Adown the streets, where once she had been led
In triumph by the man whose well-known cheer
Close at her heels, now struck benumbing fear
Into her heart, the forge of many a woe.
So, full of anguish panting did she go
O'er rough and smooth, till field and wood were passed,
And on the border of the sea at last,
With raiment torn and unshod feet, she stood,
Reddening the flowering sea-pink
with her blood.
But when she saw the tireless hunter nigh,
All wild and shouting, with a dreadful cry
She stretched her arms out seaward, and sprung down
Over the cliff among the seaweed brown
And washing surf, neither did any one
See aught of her again beneath the sun.
But Athamas, being come to where she stood,
Stared vacantly awhile upon the blood,
Then looking seaward, drew across his eyes
His fevered hand; and thronging memories
Came thick upon him, until dreamily
He turned his back upon the hungry sea,
And cast his sword down; and so, weaponless,
Went back, half-waking to his sore distress.
AS for the twain, perched on that dizzy height,
The white-walled city faded from their sight,
And many another place that well they knew;
And over woods and meadows still they flew;
And to the husbandmen seemed like a flame
Blown 'twixt the earth and the sky; until they came
Unto the borders of the babbling sea.
Nor stayed they yet, but flew unceasingly,
Till, looking back, seemed Pelion like a cloud;
And they beheld the white-topped billows crowd
Unto the eastward, 'neath the following wind.
And there a wretched end did Helle find
Unto her life; for when she did behold,
So far beneath, the deep green sea and cold,
She shut her eyes for horror of the sight,
Turning the sunny day to murk midnight,
Through which there floated many an awful thing,
Made vocal by the ceaseless murmuring
Beneath her feet; till a great gust of wind
Caught the beast's wings and swayed him round; then, blind,
Dizzy, and fainting, did she grow too weak
To hold her place, though still her hands did seek
Some stay by catching at the locks of gold;
And as she fell her brother strove to hold
Her jewelled girdle, but the treacherous zone
Broke in his hand, and he was left alone
Upon the ram, that as a senseless thing,
Still flew on toward the east, no whit heeding
His shouts and cries; but Helle, as she fell
Down through the depths, the sea-folk guarded well,
And kept her body dead, from scar or wound,
And laid it, lapped in sea-wet gold around,
Upon the south side of the murmuring strait,
That still, in memory of her piteous fate,
Bears her sweet name; her, in a little while,
The country folk beheld, and raised a pile
Of beech and oak logs all with flowers bespread;
And, lifting up the piteous maiden dead,
Laid her thereon, and there did everything,
As for the daughter of a mighty king.
BUT through the straits passed Phryxus, sad enow,
And fearful of the wind that by his brow
Went shrieking, as without all stop or stay,
The golden wings still bore him on his way
Above the unlucky waves of that ill sea
That foamed beneath his feet unceasingly.
Nor knew he to what land he was being borne,
Whether he should be set, unarmed, forlorn,
In darksome lands, among unheard of things,
Or stepping off from 'twixt the golden wings,
Should set foot in some happy summer isle,
Whereon the kind unburning sun doth smile
For ever, and that knows no frost or drought;
Or else it seemed to him, he might be brought
Unto green forests where the wood-nymphs play
With their wild mates, and fear no coming day.
And there might he forget both crown and sword,
And e'en the names of slave, and king, and lord,
And lead a merry life, till all was done,
And 'mid the green boughs, marked by no carved stone,
His unremembered bones should change and blend
With all the change that endless summers send.
So, 'mid these thoughts, afeard, and clinging fast
Unto his dizzy seat, the sea he passed,
And reached a river opening into it,
Across the which the white-winged fowl did flit
From cliff to cliff, and on the sandy bar,
The fresh waves and the salt waves were at war
At turning of the tide. Forth flew they then,
Till they drew nigh a strange abode of men,
Far up the river, white-walled, fair, and great,
And at each end of it a brazen gate,
Wide open through the daylight, guarded well;
And nothing of its name could Phryxus tell,
But hoped the beast would stop, for to his eyes
The place seemed fair; nor fell it otherwise.
There stayed the ram his course, and lighted down
Anigh the western gate of that fair town,
And on the hard way Phryxus joyfully
Set foot, full dizzy with the murmuring sea,
Numbed by the cold wind; and with little fear,
Unto the guarded gate he drew anear,
While the gold beast went ever after him.
But they, beholding him so strong of limb,
And fair of face, and seeing the beast that trod
Behind his back, deemed him some wandering God,
So let the two-edged sword hang by the side,
And by the wall the well-steeled spear abide.
But he called out to them, What place is this?
And who rules over you for woe or bliss?
And will he grant me peace to-day or war?
And may I here abide, or still afar
Must I to new abodes go wandering?
Now as he spake those words, that city's king
Adown the street was drawing toward the gate,
Clad in gold raiment worthy his estate,
Therefore one said: Behold, our king is here,
Who of all us is held both lief
, leader of a mighty host,
Feared by all folk along the windy coast.
And since this city's name thou fain wouldst know,
Men call it Aea, built long years ago,
of many Gods, who love it well.
Now come thou to the king, and straightway tell
Thy name and country, if thou be a man,
And how thou camest o'er the water wan,
And what the marvel is thou hast with thee:
But if thou be a God, theft here will we
Build thee a house, and, reverencing thy name,
Bring thee great gifts and much-desired fame.
Thus spake he, fearful; but the king drew nigh,
Wondering what wise they came by cloud and sky,
The marvellous beast, the fair man richly clad,
Who at his belt no sort of weapon had;
Then spoke he, Who art thou, in what strange wain
Hast thou crossed o'er the green and restless plain
Unharvested of any? And this thing,
That like an image stands with folded wing,
Is he a gift to thee from any God,
Or hast thou in some unknown country trod,
Where beasts are such-like ? Howsoe'er it be,
Here shalt thou dwell, if so thou wilt, with me,
Unless some God be chasing thee, and then,
What wouldst thou have us do, who are but men,
Against the might of Gods ? Then Phryxus spake:
O king, no God is angry for my sake,
But rather some one loves me well; for lo,
As the sharp knife drew nigh awhile ago
Unto my very throat, there came this ram
Who brought me to the place where now I am,
Safe from the sea and from the bitter knife.
And in this city would I spend my life
And do what service seemeth good to thee,
Since all the Gods it pleases I should be
Outcast from friends and country, though alive;
Nor with their will have I the heart to strive
More than thou hast; and now as in such wise
I have been saved, fain would I sacrifice
This beast to Jove, the helper of all such
As false friends fail, or foes oppress o'ermuch.
Yea, said Aetes, so the thing shall be
In whatsoever fashion pleaseth thee;
And long time mayst thou dwell with us in bliss,
Not doing any service worse than this,
To bear in war my royal banner forth
When fall the wild folk on us from the north.
Come now this eve, and hold high feast with us,
And tell us all of strange and piteous
Thy story hath. So went he with the king,
And gladly told unto him everything
That had befallen him, and in a grove,
Upon the altar of the Saving Jove,
They offered up the ram the morrow mordn
That thitherward the Theban prince had borne.
And thenceforth Phryxus dwelt in Colchis long
In wealth and honour, and being brave and strong,
Won great renown in many a bloody fray,
And still grew greater; and both night and day,
Within his pillared house, upon the wall
Hung the gold Fleece; until it did befall
That in Aetes' heart a longing grew
To have that treasure, even if he slew
His guest to get it: so one evil night,
While the prince lay and dreamed about the fight,
With all-armed men was every entry filled,
And quickly were the few doorkeepers killed;
And Phryxus, roused with clamour from his bed,
Half-armed and dizzy, with few strokes was dead.
And thus the King Aetes had his will,
And thus the GOLDEN FLEECE he keepeth still
Somewhere within his royal house of gold.
And thus O Minyæ, is the story told
Of things that happened forty years agone;
Nor of the Greeks has there been any one
To set the Theban's bones within a tomb,
Or to Aetes mete out his due doom;
And yet indeed, it seemeth unto me
That many a man would go right willingly,
And win great thanks of men, and godlike fame,
If there should spring up some great prince of name
To lead them; and I pray that such an one,
Before my head is laid beneath a stone,
Be sent unto us by the Gods above.
THEREWITH he ceased; but all the hall did move,
As moves a grove of rustling poplar-trees
Bowed all together by the shifting breeze,
And through the place the name of Jason ran,
Nor 'mid the feasters, was there any man
But toward the hero's high-seat turned his eyes.
Meanwhile in Jason's heart did thoughts arise,
That brought the treacherous blood into his cheek,
And he forgot his father, old and weak,
Left 'twixt the fickle people of the land
And wily Pelias, while he clenched his hand,
As though it held a sword, about his cup.
Then, 'mid the murmuring, Pelias stood up
And said: O, leaders of the Minyæ,
I hear ye name a name right dear to me
My brother's son, who in the oaken wood
Has grown up nurtured of the Centaur good,
And now this day has come again to us,
Fair faced and mighty limbed, and amorous
Of fame and glorious deed is nowise content
Betwixt the forest and the northern bent
To follow up the antlers of the deer,
Nor in his eyes can I see any fear
Of fire, or water, or the cleaving sword.
Now, therefore, if ye take him for your lord
To lead across the sea, all ye shall get
Both fame and wealth, nor shall men soon forget
To praise the noble city whence ye came,
Passing from age to age each hero's name.
UPROSE the men; forth went a mighty shout,
And ere the sound of Jason's name died out
The king reached forth to him a cup of gold,
And said: O Jason, wilt thou well behold
These leaders of the people who are fain
To go with thee and suffer many a pain
And deadly fear, if they may win at last
Undying fame when fleeting life is past?
And now, if thou art willing to be first
Of all these men, of whom indeed, the worst
Is like a God, pour out this gleaming wine
To him with whose light all the heavens shine,
Almighty Jove. Then Jason poured, and said:
O Jove, by thy hand may all these be led
To name and wealth! and yet indeed, for me
What happy ending shall I ask from thee?
What helpful friends? what length of quiet years?
What freedom from ill care and deadly fears?
Do what thou wilt, but none the less believe
That all these things and more thou shouldst receive,
If thou wert Jason, I were Jove to-day.
And ye who now are hot to play this play,
Seeking the Fleece across an unknown sea,
Bethink ye yet of death and misery,
And dull despair, before ye arm to go
Unto a savage king and folk none know,
Whence it may well hap none again shall come
To see his children, and his fathers' home.
And do thou, Pelias, ere we get us forth,
Send heralds out, east, west, and south, and north,
And with them cunning men of golden speech,
Thy tale unto the Grecian folk to teach;
That we may lack for neither strength nor wit,
For many a brave man like a fool will sit
Beside the council board; and men there are
Wise-hearted who know little, feats of war:
Nor would I be without the strength of spears,
Or waste wise words on dull and foolish ears.
Also we need a wright
, a master wise,
Taught by the Gods more wit than men devise,
To build us a good ship upon this shore.
Then, if but ten lay hold upon the oar,
And I, the eleventh, steer them toward the east,
To seek the hidden Fleece of that gold beast,
I swear to Jove that only in my hand
The fleece shall be, when I again take land
To see my father's hall, or the green grass
O'er which the grey Thessalian horses pass.
But now O friends forget all, till the morn
With other thoughts and fears is duly born!
He ceased, and all men shouted; and again
They filled their cups, and many a draught did drain.
But Pelias gazed with heedful eyes at him,
Nor drank the wine that well-nigh touched the brim
Of his gold cup; and noting every word,
Thought well that he should be a mighty lord,
For now already like a king he spoke,
Gazing upon the wild tumultuous folk
As one who knows what troubles are to come,
And in this world looks for no peaceful home
So much he dreaded what the Gods might do.
But Aeson, when he first heard Pelias, knew
What wile was stirring, and he sat afeard,
With sinking heart, as all the tale he heard;
But after hearkening what his son did say,
He deemed a God spoke through him on that day,
And held his peace; yet to himself he said:
And if he wins all, still shall I be dead
Ere on the shore he stands beside the Fleece,
The greatest and most honoured man of Greece.
But Jason, much rejoicing in his life,
Drank and was merry, longing for the strife;
Though in his heart he did not fail to see
His uncle's cunning wiles and treachery;
But thought, when sixty years are gone at most,
Then will all pleasure and all pain be lost;
Although my name, indeed, be east about
From hall to temple, amid song and shout:
So let me now be merry with the best.
MEANWHILE, all men spoke hotly of the quest,
And many a champion 'mid the wine did hail,
Till waned the moon, and all the stars grew pale,
And from the east faint yellow light outshone
Back to top